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“Faithful” Coins Wash Ashore From Delaware Shipwreck

by | Mar 1, 2016 | 17 comments

Terry Einig shows coins and bits of metal from the Faithful Steward.

Terry Einig shows coins and bits of metal from the Faithful Steward.

A penny for your thoughts! Perhaps a half-penny would be more like it if you’re searching Delaware shores for long lost coins from the Faithful Steward. Most of them are English half-pennies, a portion of the general cargo aboard an English merchantman that left Londonderry, Ireland, in 1875 bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The 270 passengers and crew had an uneventful 53-day voyage until they were caught in a storm that grounded the vessel at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. On captain’s orders, the crew cut down the mainmast and rigging, tossed it overboard and freed the 350-ton vessel. But while heading for deeper waters, it was driven inshore by gale winds and grounded on still another shoal nine miles south of Cape Henlopen, Delaware. It was only 200 to 300 yards from the beach, but there wasn’t a lifesaving service on that part of the coast at the time.

The Faithful Steward and its passengers and crew were at the mercy of a storm that grew worse by the hour. A couple of longboats were launched, but they capsized in heavy seas. Only 68 of those aboard ship survived, most of them drifting ashore while clinging to broken parts of the ship. Dead bodies washed ashore caught up among rigging, wooden planks and passengers’ belongings. Many of the victims were women and children. Good Samaritans helped the survivors, while scavengers looted pockets of the dead and carried off trunks that held personal possessions.

For 135 years, English half-pennies–struck with a bust of King George III– have washed up on the beach about a quarter mile north of Indian River Inlet. Most of the coins were stored in barrels, purportedly 400 of them, below deck. The barrels that didn’t break open eventually rotted and cast millions of coins across the sandy bottom. The wreck, just beyond the surf line, still yields them as they’re swept in by heavy seas and riptides.

The Faithful Steward wreck and Coin Beach lie north of Indian River Inlet, Delaware.

The Faithful Steward wreck and Coin Beach lie north of Indian River Inlet, Delaware.

Shipping small denominations of British coins—in this case “coppers”—to America was common practice in those days. There was no mint in America and the British frequently over-minted coppers, which they palmed off on the Irish. But if the Irish rejected them, the next destination was America where there always seemed to be a shortage of small denominations.

Storms, particularly the raging, howling kind that dump big waves on the beach and cause washouts, are signals to grab your metal detector and head for the beach. Fittingly named years ago, the area is designated Coin Beach on some of the souvenir maps. Actually, you don’t even need a metal detector. Sometimes coins are exposed in the wet sand sandwiched in between seaweed and seashells. Beachcombers accidentally discover coppers while searching for shells and driftwood.

In 1985, Delaware maritime attorney Peter Hess, then a Deputy Attorney General for the State Department of Natural Resources, drafted a resolution commemorating the loss of the Faithful Steward. It passed in the Delaware General Assembly and a ceremony was held on the beach, September 2, the bicentennial of the disaster. A memorial plaque marks the spot where survivors were rescued, a time-honored reminder of the Scottish, Irish and English immigrants who didn’t make it and never had the opportunity to find a new life in the New World.

17 Comments

  1. I believe this vessel was lost at night in July, 1785 with a loss of @200 people.

  2. That sounds about right. It’s a darn shame there was no lifesaving service at that time. I haven’t looked it up, but I think the service started not long after that. Friends of mine who live in Delaware still find some of the English half-pennies washed up on shore after storms.

  3. Are you aware of any historical novel written about the wreck of Faithful Steward?

  4. The vessel ran aground on the evening of September 1, 1785. There is currently an exhibit called Angry Waters, at the Rehoboth Beach Historical Museum in Rehoboth Beach, DE which includes info on the Faithful Stewart.

  5. I am a decendant of one of the children that survived the Faithful Steward. I would like to get one if the coins as well as a poster of the ship. How would I go about getting these items?

  6. Largest collection is at Discoversea Shipwreck Museum in Fenwick

  7. Sorry Numa, you are correct about seashells being found on the beach but seaweed and kelp are not typical to this region…y’all should know that being saltwater guys…there are still coins there, i found 2 after Sandy, both just a fews inches down….you just never can tell….

  8. You’re right–seaweed and kelp are rare. Thanks for your post. So glad you found a couple of coins. I haven’t been to the area in years but would love to return and do a search. Let us know if you go back and find anything else. Cheers! E.

  9. Charlotte, would like to know if you have any stories handed down through the family of your ancestors experience. I am an author and am researching and writing the story of “Faithful Steward, Delaware’s Infamous Shipwreck.” This will be the first novel of the people and the shipwreck. Iam well into my research and am writing the story. My progress can be followed on my website at Harryallenwenzel.com

  10. Harry: I don’t have any stories but I know that Dale Clifton does. He owns and operates the Discover Sea Museum, Fenwick Island, Delaware. Phone: (302) 539-9366.
    Go to: http://www.discoversea.com
    I will be eager to read your book when completed. Exactly what would you call “infamous” about the Faithful Steward?
    Best regards, E.

  11. Very good question! To the point – infamous = well known for some bad quality or deed. There are three parts to consider in Faithful Steward and the reader will be very interested in the whole story. (1) Who were the crew and more importantly, who were the passengers? (2) Where did they come from and why did they emigrate? (3) What happened during and after the shipwreck? The reference to infamous correlates to the third part – the wreck and following the wreck. I have 6 people, 4 from Northern Ireland, 1 from Canada, 1 from the USA, all of which have been extremely helpful and instrumental in providing research. Those from Ulster are a librarian and a curator at the National Museum, Ireland, another, an expert genealogist, and the last represents the Ulster Historical Foundation, Belfast. There is also a university professor, in the USA and a private citizen, Canada, the latter, whose ancestors, two of them survived the wreck and went on to meet up with their brother, two became successful merchants in colonial Philadelphia and well-connected, and the third, a mariner. All of these are anxiously looking forward to the novel. And lastly, hopefully a bunch of readers who will experience history, that of a ship with an extremely interesting name, and the passengers who in the end, well, became part of history.

  12. Harry: Outstanding research! Keep it up! But I still don’t see “infamous” in the title or story line. The Bounty (“Mutiny on the Bounty”) was infamous Think about it. Cheers, E.

  13. Harry and all:
    I have ancestors who survived the wreck, and they were two brothers who found their other brother John, who came over earlier on the Lazy Mary.
    The two survivors, Simon(who never married) and William Elliott (our ancestor) eventually continued west. There is a book published in 1911 by an Elliott, who has family stories about the wreck, and the family up to 1911.
    The Pennsylvania Packet had the wreck story on 12 September 1785, listing the survivors. There were a few more added later. I wish there was a list of all the passengers, as we have no knowledge of the family back from then. I found a paperback novel once that had a story similar to ours.
    Best of luck on the book! Keep us all informed.

  14. Hello Anne:
    I’m glad to see your post. I am very familiar with the two brothers (Elliott’s) and their other brother who preceded them on the Lazy Mary. Have you seen the post on Ancestry.com, I think, about “Wealthy Elliott?” I am not aware of a book circa 1911. If you could provide me information as to how to obtain it I would be grateful. I have found a few more survivor’s names and I think one or two names who perished, in addition to the 68 printed in the PA Packett. The best way for you to keep up to date pertaining to my new novel is to visit my website – harryallenwenzel.com and click on “Blog.” I post periodically, in fact I’ll be preparing an update tomorrow, about my research, my writing, and sharing of stories impacting both. Thus far, I am up to about 130 pages, 28,000 words, and still going. It’s fascinating work, but then it would have to be wouldn’t it? Otherwise, why undertake this. Meeting people, on-line and in person, in the process is a very valued benefit! Stay tuned, and if you come across anything you think may be of interest to me, send an email at harry@harryallenwenzel.com

  15. I volunteer at the Indian River Life Saving Station taking part in their Lantern Tours which discuss the fate of the Faithful Steward, the coins and the crossing named after the ship. Unfortunately there is slightly less than 100 years between the sinking and the establishment of the service. The US Life Serving Service came into existence in 1871, the Indian River Life Saving Station that still over looks the site of the wreck, was not opened to the fall of 1876.

    It is true if the service had existed the loss of life would have been far less of the 63 major wrecks during the time the station operated as the US Life Saving Service till the Coast Guard took over the duty in 1915, the station saved over 419 people with only six known lost.

  16. Hi Marty: Thanks very much. This is quite interesting. I suggest you email Harry Wenzel and pass info on to him about your Lantern Tours and other Faithful Steward news.
    Email Harry at: harry@harryallenwenzel.com

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